By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern
Something about Charlotte is bewitching – just ask the myriad of people who serve her tirelessly. The theatre community has fallen for her especially hard, seeking to deliver performances that entice her community and foster a deeper appreciation for the stage. What’s a production company supposed to do, though, when money is tight and the show must go on? Local theatre groups have banded together under the consulting expertise of Josh Jacobson, deciding to share their brainpower as a means of reaching people like you.
I spent some time discussing the project with Jacobson and Donna Scott, Artistic Executive Director of participating group, Donna Scott Productions.
The initiative itself is called Charlotte Scene and encompasses three objectives: increasing advocacy, awareness and resources. Jacobson, who previously worked in administration for the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Julliard School, has firsthand knowledge of the arts sector’s intricacies. Approached by the Arts and Science Council to facilitate dialogue between the various companies involved, he realizes the value of theatrical experience. More than anything else, Jacobson believes in the practicality of cooperation.
“Charlotte Scene…is really in service to the first goal of awareness. It’s funded [in part] by the Knight Foundation [and] an opportunity…for them [local producing companies] to share advertising expenses,” he said. “There’s a lot that can happen from cross-pollination.”
In response, the obvious question seemed why haven’t we done this before? Why has it taken so long to implement a strategic advertising plan? Jacobson explained that plenty have noticed the need, but limited finances have choked out progress. “I think it’s hard…the challenge of we have ambition but we’re already overworked staff and volunteers and artists, this just adds to the plate. What we tried to impress is it will always be an overworked, under-resourced community unless we do something about it. It’s really about prioritizing it.”
Scott agreed, explaining, “I think perhaps as producers we have just all stayed very focused on our own seasons and upcoming projects which is an easy thing to do–everyone stays very busy. But times have changed for the arts and I think the majority of theatre companies have had to rethink how they attract and serve their audiences to stay in business.”
What Jacobson wants is for the theatre family to find their momentum and take ownership of the initiative, although he recognizes the need for a “convalescing of [Charlotte Scene] into an organizational bottle.” Essentially, an overarching coordinator is still necessary to sustain the initiative.
Most fascinating for me, was Jacobson’s analysis of Charlotte’s demand issue. He cited the cultural boom of the 60s and 70s – specifically the way organizations cultivated a hunger for art. “You [are] a business like any other business and if there’s not a demand for your product and it’s allowed to die, whose fault is that? Is it the community’s fault for not giving you resources or is it the company’s for not creating demand for the product? That’s a tough love moment. There’s truth in both camps…we do also have to understand our audiences…we need to be informed by the things around us.”
In an ideal world, theatre wouldn’t need to fight for its place on the classical art shelf. I asked Scott about her dreams for Charlotte’s theatrical future, and she shared hopes for theatre expanding “into all corners of our city and popping up in new, nontraditional venues and spaces.”
Uniting under their mutual love for our city, Charlotte’s theatres desire, like Scott, “that Charlotte is thought of as a regional center with a vibrant theatre scene known for [its] high quality, vast opportunity and strong sense of community.” Good love is reciprocal, so let’s return the favor and partake in the drama.
Visit charlottecultureguide.com/cltscene to buy tickets for this season’s biggest shows.